Travelling with a newborn: flying with a baby travel tips

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Planning on flying with a baby? Congratulations, you’ve reached the fifth trimester* (*something I made up to mark the moment you’ve completed all the gestating, birthing, learning to keep the little bundle alive, and so now the fun can really start!)
But seriously, even considering baby travel makes you more intrepid than a lot of parents, with many admitting they wouldn’t dare think about travelling with a newborn or flying with a baby until they were at least three or four! As a travel journalist and blogger, I never thought twice about travelling with a baby, in fact, I couldn’t wait to get cracking. But despite my frequent flyer miles and enthusiasm, travelling with a newborn (and a, now, two year old!) hasn’t always been plain sailing. From my experience of 20 trips and 10 countries flying with a baby in tow, I can offer you these two pieces of advice: Relax and prepare. Seriously, it’s not as complicated as you think and can be very rewarding and, dare I say it, fun. Plus, travel can help you feel like yourself again, bond with your partner, allow you to be ‘not just parents’, to do something for you, create new memories and get a taste of the freedom you enjoyed before.

Below is my travelling with baby checklist: everything you need to know about flying with a baby, from baby travel items to travelling with a newborn and taking a baby on long haul flights. Mama, Dada, you got this. Just don’t forget the passports!

Does a newborn baby need a passport?

Talking of passports, yes, a newborn baby does need a passport. You can apply for your baby’s first UK passport at the British Passport Office. You do have to pay for your baby’s first passport and it may take longer than adult passport renewals, so make sure you apply for it in plenty of time. A note for mums, who like me, have a different surname to their babies – when you travel internationally without baby’s dad, you will also need to bring a legal copy of your child’s birth certificate. And this is not a drill – I have been asked on more than one occasion.

Is travelling with a newborn really hard?

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Travelling with Finn has been briliiant. (Photo: Helen Wright)

I’m sure you will get different answers from different parents but my answer is no. In my experience, newborn babies are the easiest aged child to travel with. Travelling with toddlers on longhaul flights? Now that’s a different beast entirely. You’ll find that newborns, or a younger baby, travel well on planes. They don’t weigh much, sleep loads and don’t require much entertaining. The hum of the cabin often helps them drift off to sleep too. The key skill to have when flying with a baby, or any baby travel, is to be relaxed about the experience. From the parents that I have spoken to, the biggest thing stopping them from travelling with their baby is confidence. Positive thinking sounds like a throwaway phrase, but if you are relaxed and confident, this will translate to your baby, essentially reassuring them that everything is fine. If you, as the parent, feel stressed about the flight, this could have a negative effect on your baby, making them feel anxious and out of their comfort zone and possibly making them restless.

It’s important to consider other passengers and not be a selfish traveller (this is true of all people!) but don’t worry about what they are thinking, whether they are judging you or whether your baby is too loud, smelly or inconvenient. The primary thing to concentrate on is being calm and relaxed yourself, after that the mood and comfort of your baby, and, hopefully the impact on other passengers will take care of itself. Oh, and this ‘trend’ of bringing presents to give to passengers in surrounding seats is nonsense. I wouldn’t entertain that for a second and would feel weird if a parent gave me a gift to ‘apologise for their baby’. Poppycock!

Our first trip with Finn was to Mammoth Lakes, California!

Travelling with a baby checklist: what baby travel items do you need when flying with a baby?

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Being prepared is the key to stress-free baby travel (Photo: Helen Wright)

My number one tip for baby travel is that the less you have to carry, the easier travelling will be. I get it, you’re going to be stuck on a plane for hours so the instinct is to pack everything your baby owns along with a few extras ‘just in case’. The most stressed parents I notice, almost always have too much stuff. Packing light means you can move much easier around the airport, have hands free to entertain your baby and will be less hot, bothered and laden as you board the plane. Stick to your baby’s favourite blanket and teddy bear, plus a few imaginative toys that ideally do not make noises.

We travel with stacking cups, an electronic game with buttons that flash and the sound can be turned off, and a learning toy (such as a Baby Einstein Octopus). Use items from the plane as new toys, such as cups, bottles, landing card, straws – anything they can play with or touch.

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Stacking cups or colourful bricks work well to entertain babies (Photo: Helen Wright)

It is worth checking how easy it is to pick up baby supplies at your destination. Developed countries will likely have easy access to nappies, wipes, formula, baby food, fruit and cosmetics. Developing countries also now often have plenty of places to buy supplies but we always pack our own nappies now after Finn reacted badly to some disposable nappies we bought in the USA. I always carry my own, UK-purchased medicine (such as Calpol, nappy cream, and anti-allergy) with me on the plane to make sure I can always get to it easily. Overseas medications and cosmetics, including sun cream, are not tested to the vigorous standards we have in the UK and so you may find some are of inferior quality.

How many clothes and nappies do I need to carry on the plane for my newborn?

Ah, newborns and their constant nappy filling. I remember those days. Even though I stand by advice to not pack too much, it is wise to make sure you have enough clothes for your baby to wear for the whole journey (factoring in two/three hours at the airport before you board, plus travel time to your hotel). The general rule of thumb is to pack one nappy per each hour of the flight (just in case), along with two spare outfits. It’s also wise for parents to pack a spare top as well, in case of any puke / spills or leakage (from the baby, of course…), that may require a costume change.

Even if your baby is very young, talk to them and try to engage them in their new environment by showing them different parts of the plane, looking out of the window, telling them where they are and where they are going and generally letting them see your happy and calm face. If they think mum and dad are chilled, they will be too.

Baby travel: Flying with a baby long-haul

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Finn is a frequent flyer now (Photo: Helen Wright)

On our first long-haul flight with Finn (when he was four months old), despite being excited and ready to go, Simon and I still had a bit of anxiety about what the flight experience would be like. We came up with a strategy in advance. The flight was nine hours and so we decided to split the duration into three parts. This helped us manage our time and we felt more relaxed thinking about it as three, three-hour segments.

We took our Sleepyhead Deluxe pod, which fitted into the airplane sky cot. These can also go on your lap and across the tray tables (although some airlines wont let you do this). With the sleepyhead, Finn settled easily into an environment (and smell) he was familiar with. If you don’t have a sleep pod, even bringing your own blanket or sheet from home can help settle baby and make them feel secure. This also works well once you arrive at the hotel.

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Virgin Atlantic skycot with a Sleepyhead Deluxe inside. (Photo: Helen Wright)

Despite being on the move, try to remember your baby’s regular feed and sleep times and try to stick to them as much as possible, even if they don’t fit in with the timings of the flight. Babies don’t adapt as well as we do, and a hangry baby is never going to be ideal on a plane. Hangry adults are no fun either, so also remember to feed yourself and keep hydrated. The better you feel, the easier the journey will be.

Air staff are usually extra accommodating when you have a baby, helping out wherever possible and providing hot water for heating bottles, extra pillows and moral support. Don’t be afraid to move around the plane with baby. As well as killing time for you, the cabin has plenty of things for them to look at and entertain them. People’s faces, flashing lights, intermittent noises – all of these things are fascinating for a young mind.

THE SIX ESSENTIAL BABY TRAVEL ITEMS I USE ALL THE TIME

When is it safe for a newborn to fly on a plane and how long can babies travel for free?

On most airlines, babies under the age of two can travel as a lap-sitting infant. This means they will not have their own seat and will be on your lap for the duration of the flight. However, contrary to popular belief, even lap-sitting babies do not travel free and the fee for them to travel is usually around 10% of the adult seat price.

Believe it or not, on most airlines you can fly with your baby from two days old! Although, some airlines do require that your baby is at least two weeks old. If baby is really young, check with your airline before you travel as they may ask you to bring a ‘fit to fly’ letter from your GP or midwife. If your baby was born prematurely, you need to count from their registered due date, not the day they were born (this is baby travel getting complicated!). Also, if mum had a caesarean section, your midwife might advise waiting for your six-week postnatal check-up before you fly. I definitely recommend waiting a little while before you go travelling with a newborn. They are more susceptible to virus, coughs and colds (etc) at a young age and planes are breeding pits for germs!

Can you buy a seat for a baby under two?

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Little baby, big seat! (Photo: Simon Henry)

Yes – if you would rather not have your baby sitting on your lap for the flight, on most airlines you can purchase a full price seat for babies six months or above. For this, you will need to bring a compatible car seat (check with each individual airline) or a AmSafe Child Restraint System if your child is between 12-months and four years. The AmSafe is a belt and buckle device that attaches to the airline seat. On most airlines, these can not usually be used in first, business or premium cabins as they are designed to fit a standard economy seat. If you don’t have a proper restraint for your baby, they can still have their own seat but they will be required to sit on your lap with an infant seatbelt for takeoff, landing and turbulence.

Do lap-sitting infants get a meal?

In most cases, lap-sitting infants do not get a meal on the plane. You may be able to pick up an extra meal if the cabin isn’t full by asking the crew if there are spare meals, but infants are not allocated food. It is best you pack enough food and drink (or milk) for the duration of the flight and the time it may take to clear customs at your destination.

How much baby stuff can I check in?

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Baby flat lay – how much to take! (Photo: Helen Wright)

Airlines across the world, and across the UK may have different rules but most airlines (both low cost and regular airlines) usually allow two checked items of baby equipment. This can vary from a travel cot, stroller or pram, car seat, back carrier and so on. This is in addition to any luggage linked to a paid adult seat. Lap-sitting infants do not usually get a checked bag in addition to this.

Do you need a travel pram?

We use the official pram bag for our everyday pram and always check it in with our luggage. Often we also cheekily use the pram bag to transport some other baby essentials such as nappies and wipes, which can weigh down your case. You aren’t technically supposed to do this but we have never been stopped. If you prefer, you can push your buggy to the gate (providing it is a stroller-style pram that folds in one piece). Ground staff will then put your buggy into the hold for you there but, since they are literally just thrown in under the plane, there is no guarantee they wont get damaged so I would never do this with our expensive pram.

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The size of our pram bag made a funny Instagram post (Photo: @passportbaby)

Personally, we rarely take our pram to the gate. We just find the airport easier without a pram and often you can wait for ages at the other end before it is returned to you. We carry Finn through the airport in our Ergobaby 360. This means we are hands-free to carry bags (or coffee!) and don’t get stuck behind crowds of people dithering about in the terminal. It makes boarding the aircraft much smoother and also comes in handy if you need to settle your baby by walking them up and down the aisles during the flight. Some airports, such as Gatwick Airport, offer prams that you can use to push your baby from security to the gate, which is helpful. Recently, we have started to use a travel pram, the GB Pockit stroller, on some trips. This pram folds so small it can go into the overhead compartment in the airline, which is very handy. Finn weighs a chunky two stone now so having him in the carrier for too long can be tiring. The GB Pockit helps when we are feeling lazy!

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The GB Pockit fitted neatly into the overhead compartment on RyanAir

I have travelled with Finn and not taken a pram at all, such as on this recent trip to Lisbon. But generally, Simon and I like to go out for dinner and so having a pram with us means Finn can sleep while we eat. Hey, adults need quality time too! If I dine with him in the carrier I end up dropping food on his head!

Do I need to bring my car seat?

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When we travel, Finn’s safety is paramount

When travelling with a newborn, the car seat is one of the biggest hurdles to smooth baby travel. The rules vary from country to country. Put simply, the actual rules are: If you have a European car seat and you are travelling to a European country or a country that accepts European approved car seats, it may be cheaper for you to take your own seat. Unless you have paid for your baby to have their own cabin seat, this will need to be checked in as one of your two allocated ‘baby travel items’. If you have a European car seat and you are traveling with a baby out of the EU, say to the USA, Australia, New Zealand and some other countries, you are required by law to use a child seat approved by the country you are visiting. So if you are driving in the USA, you should have a U.S. approved car seat. You may want to rent this from your rental car provider or, as we discovered on our trip to California, it was actually cheaper to buy one from Walmart!

However, it does seem that most parents either do not know these rules or choose to ignore them. If you do take your own car seat and fix it in properly, your child will be as safe as they are at home. Just bear in mind that in the event of an accident, your travel insurer could use this as a reason not to pay out so you will be taking that risk.

Finally, and I am no medical or child expert so any advice given here should be researched by the individual parent, it is my opinion that short journeys (such as in a cab to your hotel) do not really need a car seat at all. I usually take Finn in the Ergobaby, facing me. Then I seatbelt myself in, making sure the cross-body part of the belt is not across his spine. I have found this to be a quick and easy way to use cabs or go on short car journeys without the need to take my car seat everywhere. However, in my experience, if you would rather use a car seat at all times, many pre-booked airport transfers offer infant car seats on request.

Read my definitive list on what baby travel items I do take here.

Breastfeeding and traveling with breast milk

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Breastfeeding meant we could go hiking in the California mountains (Photo: Simon Henry)

One of the reasons I was determined to breastfeed, was to make baby travel easier. It goes without saying that if you can feed your baby any time, anywhere, by attaching them to you, life is generally much more simple (and far less washing up and carrying stuff is required!) Aside from the health benefits, for mums that want to be more mobile I highly recommend attempting to breastfeed. I had a few struggles at first and used a local breastfeeding help resource (Islington breastfeeding) and they helped me so much. Once you’re through the pain barrier – that struggle is real! – trust me it will be worth it ten times over.

Breastfeeding Finn meant we could go on this day-long hike around Mammoth Lakes.

One of the questions I am asked a lot is about traveling with breast milk, flying with breast milk and whether you can take expressed breast milk through airport security. The answer is yes, you can bring expressed breast milk through airport security in individual containers no more that 2000ml each in size. Quick note, this is the standard rule for UK airports, but best to check international airports just in case. Each container will need to be screened at security and airport staff might need to open the containers to screen the liquids. In my experience, bottles have never been opened and the milk inside is never touched. They have a cool-looking machine that screens the milk without needing to open the containers.

If you are planning on traveling with frozen breast milk, you will not be able to travel with frozen breast milk in your hand luggage. Frozen breast milk can be stored in checked luggage but only non-frozen breast milk can be taken through airport security and into the airline cabin. You can also carry formula, soya milk, cows milk, baby food and sterlisied water through security – guidelines suggest you can take as much as you need for your journey, but there is no set amount.

Bottle feeding – do I need to travel with my steriliser?

Even when we began combine-feeding, I never once travelled with my steriliser. I have spoken to people who have, but I can’t ever imagine travelling with a newborn and with something as chunky and cumbersome as a bottle sterilizer! We used the absolutely brilliant self-sterilizing Mam Bottles. These can be sterilized individually in a microwave using a small amount of water. No need for Milton sterilising tablets or other chemical cleaners. In destinations where we found ourselves without easy access to a microwave, we used boiling water from the kettle and left it a little bit longer with the lid on. We had no problems and I can’t recommend them enough!

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These were absolutely brilliant. (Photo: Mam)

What baby jabs do I need for my destination?

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We travelled to Mauritius when Finn was eight-months old (Pic: Helen Wright)

If you are travelling to a long-haul destination, you may be required to have a travel vaccination to protect you from tropical diseases, such as malaria. When it comes to travel jabs for babies, you will likely find that your baby is too young to have them. The best resource to find out about infant vaccinations when travelling with a baby longhaul is the NHS platform Fit for Travel. It is also recommended that you see your GP or midwife around 6-8 weeks before you fly.

We travelled to the Indian Ocean when Finn was eight-months-old.

Baby travel: can I use insect repellent on a baby?

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Mozzies love humid environments (Pic: Andrew Codrington)

If your baby travel plans take you to somewhere that mosquitos and other bitey insects are a concern, you may need to think about using an insect repellent. There is a lot of incorrect information on the internet about insect repellent and babies and so I thought I would set the record straight. According to the most up to date research from the NHS, it is safe to use insect repellent on babies aged two months and older. Concerns before tended to be around the ingredient N,N-Diethyl-m-tolumide (Deet). There are other ingredients that are said to repel mosquitos but Deet is proven to be the most effective. You may also wonder if it is safe to use insect repellent during pregnancy. Research says that products containing up to 50 per cent Deet are safe for you to use in pregnancy and when breastfeeding. It’s also worth noting here that products over 50% Deet can cause skin irritation on anyone, so best not to go too high. When we camped in Asia we used an 80% Deet product on the exterior of our tent but never on our skin or clothes.

If you’re worried about baby insect bites and your baby is under two months old, there are natural remedies available such as this range Incognito from Holland and Barrett. Another tip is to buy some breathable netting material and wrap it around your car seat / cot or pram, gathering at the top with a peg.

All said and done, I highly recommend travelling with a newborn and making the most of your maternity leave – and the fact baby can travel for free (almost). Good luck, and remember to follow us on @Passportstampsuk and @PassportBaby for more family friendly travel tips and products.

Helen also writes a family travel column for juniormagazine.co.uk

HAVE A LOOK AT SOME OF THE DESTINATIONS WE HAVE VISITED WITH OUR BABY

Hiking in Lake Tahoe, California

Exploring Marrakech, Morocco

A road trip around Lake Garda, Italy

A brilliant trip to Dubrovnik, Croatia

This dream hotel for VIP babies in Mauritius

Our Orlando itinerary – two weeks in Orlando

Staying at Universal Orlando’s Cabana Bay Hotel.

What it was like to be in Florida during a hurricane.

A day trip from Orlando – to Daytona Beach

VIDEO: A multi-generational holiday to SeaWorld, Orlando

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